artdish on tEEth Feb 13, 2009
Dance is seldom easy to quantify or explain. How can the movement of bodies across a stage depict things so essential to the human experience? Often we witness the drama of personal relationships or the interaction of the soul and the larger cosmos. The object is frequently transcendence, the process of our unlocking this mortal coil to inhabit a space beyond it.
The Portland collective tEEth, whose work Grub is being performed through Saturday the 14th at On the Boards, takes the human body itself as domain and subject. Try as we might to achieve a communion with others or ascend to some unspecified higher order of existence, tEEth reminds us that all we have in the end is the discomfort of our own physical presence. The realization is compelling to watch, but not pretty.
Grub’s movement is harsh and punishing, initiated, then later punctuated, by a host of shrieks, cries, and high-pitched wails. The dancers appear completely unrestrained as their contorted facial expressions give way to violent spasms. Limbs and torsos shoot out wildly and seemingly without cause, but ultimately rotate back upon themselves, culminating in slaps, slams, thuds and more primal screams.
Throughout the performance there are interruptions that change the mode and tonality by way of a camcorder and projection. As simple as it sounds, the effect of having a woman writhing on the floor in silence while simultaneous gazing at us on a large screen is powerful, providing us with an alternate, more intimate perspective of the trauma we have been witnessing all along. At other times, the video feed is distorted in a way that suggests human forms exerting pressure or even melting through the surface.
There is a kind of physical grounding that results from these repeated attempts to break free from the constraints of the body. While I am not sure I have ever seen a dance like this before, it did remind me of one artist who works in a very different medium: Kiki Smith. There was something about the strange quality of human forms impressed upon the screen, the emphasis on extremities, the wild-haired women with their silent-screen faces, open mouths and popping eyes that made me think of her.
Choosing to choreograph work which flirts so dangerously with the profane and the ordinary is courageous and brave. To create a successful piece in the process, as tEEth has done, is something to marvel at.
[Originally posted @ artdish]